As the United States and other Western powers try to reduce Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Iran moved this week to fan the flames.
In a bid to become the hub for anti-Israel activities, Iran invited Arab terror groups – including Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad – to a two-day meeting in Tehran to coordinate strategy against Israel.
The view from Tehran is that the anti-Israeli front should intensify its activities to take advantage of Israel’s present “state of instability and weakness.”
The conference brought together a who’s who of Israel’s enemies, yet it was greeted with relative indifference by Israeli officials. As far as they are concerned, Iran’s role as a backer of militant groups has been clear for some time.
Just the same, the militant powwow represented something of a success for Tehran.
A non-Arab country, Iran has for years tried to shift the focus of the struggle against Israel from the Arab world to the broader Islamic world, and has positioned itself as Israel’s archenemy.
Until now, many Muslim countries have distanced themselves from Iran and its fundamentalist regime. At a conference of Islamic states last November, for example, Iran failed to get the attendees to take steps to isolate Israel on the world stage.
This week, however, lawmakers from 30 Islamic countries – including Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Yemen – attended the conference.
In an article this week, the Tehran Times made the goals of Iranian leaders clear: “Tehran slowly is becoming the focal point of the struggle for the Liberation of holy Jerusalem.”
For their part, Palestinian groups attending the conference had a goal of their own.
Known as the rejectionist front because of their refusal to accept any of the terms of the Oslo process – particularly those recognizing Israel’s right to exist – the groups are concerned that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat may one day reach a final agreement with Israel.
The conference in Tehran was intended to increase coordination among the rejectionists – instead of competition between them – to make the struggle against Israel more effective.
Time magazine reported this week that Hamas militants already have commenced joint operations with Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.
Menashe Amir, head of the Persian Department of Israel Radio, claimed there is nothing new in this.
Iran has been training Palestinians terrorists for years, both in Hezbollah camps in south Lebanon and in Iran itself, he noted.
Palestinian terrorists already have adopted Hezbollah-style tactics, including roadside bombs, booby-trapped cars and mortar attacks on residential areas inside Israel, Amir said. Palestinians also have been seen waving Hezbollah’s yellow flags at recent demonstrations, he noted.
Salim Zanoun, chairman of the Palestine National Council, and Ikrami Sabri, the top Palestinian Authority-appointed Muslim cleric Jerusalem, was on hand at the Tehran conference to look after the P.A.’s interests.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, opened the conference Monday with a declaration that combat, not dialogue, was the way to deal with the Jewish state.
“The strength of Islamic resistance lies in its ability to wreak crushing blows against Israeli actions, and not in relying on diplomatic efforts and mediation of others,” he said. “Supporting the Palestinian people is one of the important Islamic duties.”
He also devoted some of his remarks to Holocaust denial.
“There are documents at hand” that prove Jews exaggerated the numbers killed in the Holocaust “to solicit international sympathy and lay the grounds for the occupation of Palestine and justify the atrocities of the Zionists,” Khamenei claimed.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, often described as a relative moderate on domestic issues, showed that he is little different from the ayatollah when it comes to Israel.
“The oppressed people of Palestine,” he said Monday, are “the victims of Zionist discrimination and aggression.”
The leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, rushed to Khamenei to kiss his hand after his speech. Iran for years has sponsored Hezbollah with training and equipment.
Nasrallah vowed continued “surprise attacks by Palestinian resistance groups.”
The organizer of the Tehran conference was Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Poor, a former Iranian ambassador to Syria who is considered one of the founding fathers of Hezbollah.
Israel Radio’s Amir said Mohtashami-Poor is a close associate of Khatami, whom Amir in turn described as “just as hostile toward Israel as the radicals in Tehran.”
While the Iranians were busy this week trying to make themselves the central address for attacks on Israel, they may have competition from an unexpected corner.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Ra’anan Gissin, claimed Tuesday that billionaire terrorist Osama bin Laden is trying to establish a “terrorist” infrastructure among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Gissin made the claim after Israel arrested a Gaza lawyer it suspects of involvement with bin Laden, whose terror operations are based in Afghanistan.
If true, this could represent the opening of a new chapter in terrorist attacks on Israel.